Board renews administrator’s contract to 2016

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County’s government executive received an extension on her contract after weathering criticism by two supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors discussed County Administrator Mary T. Price’s contract in open session at a work session Thursday. Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz asked that the board review the contract. Following a discussion about the agreement, the board voted 4-2 to extend the contract to Dec. 31, 2016.

Price received a favorable review from a majority of the board a few weeks ago that called for her to receive a $2,500 salary increase — the second raise in a year — as dictated in her contract.

The board took action early. Supervisors had until Nov. 1 to decide whether or not to renew the contract for the agreed upon period of every two years. Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese made the motion to go ahead and renew the contract.

Shruntz and Bailey suggested that the board revise the contract to reduce automatic renewals from two years to one year. Bailey declined to make a motion, citing the likelihood the rest of the board would not support her recommendation. Bailey said the board had until Nov. 1 to change the contract.

Chairman David Ferguson, who participated in the contract negotiation, argued against reducing the renewal period, saying such action would “penalize” the administrator.

“Our contract, as it is written here, is very, very pro-county, not necessarily executive,” Ferguson said. “When I interviewed people — and I interviewed people for our county administrator’s position on two occasions — there was a lot of times when they wouldn’t even look at us because [of] our benefit package, what we were offering, the safeguards for their employment.”

The contract calls for the county to provide a severance package equal to six months pay, benefits and unused vacation if the board terminates the administrator’s employment without cause. Ferguson said such terms are necessary to attract the right people for the job.

“When you’re looking at an executive at this level, there isn’t an incentive to enter into an agreement where you know that you may be terminated without cause at any time and not be compensated,” Ferguson said.

Bailey said she interpreted the contract to say that the administrator would receive the severance if the board doesn’t renew the agreement. Bailey said she calculated that compensation to be more than $88,000.

“That seems like an awful lot of money,” Bailey said. “This is taxpayer money for not renewing a contract.”

Ferguson reiterated his argument that the contract benefits the county moreso than the administrator.

“You can debate all you want about what’s the wisest use of taxpayers’ dollars,” Ferguson said. “I think [we] did a very good job with this contract in mind of protecting the taxpayer dollars.”

Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley said the contract closely resembles the agreement the board had with Price’s predecessor, Douglas Walker.

Members pointed out that Price’s salary isn’t that high. Information provided at the work session showed a comparison of area administrator salaries. Price, with 17 years in the county government and one year as administrator, makes $123,000. By comparison, John Riley, county administrator for Frederick County, with 32 years in government service, makes $187,416.

Doug Stanley, with 14 years as administrator for Warren County, makes $135,846. Joe Paxton, with 11 years as administrator for Rockingham County, makes $138,178. Mark Lauzier, with one year of service as administrator for Page County, earns $125,000. All administrators except Price are assigned a vehicle or receive an allowance.

Walker earned $127,000 when he left in the spring of 2013 to take an assistant administrator position for Albemarle County.

At the end of the meeting, board members met in closed session to discuss a “personnel matter” concerning an unidentified, specific employee.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com